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The Future Is Female • The Iconic Women of Design

Just because International Women’s Day has come to a close for another year, that doesn’t mean our celebrations of inspirational women should end.

To continue our IWD 2018 series, we look to more recent years in design history. Thanks to a group of pioneering female designers, architects and creative directors leading the way, its clear that the future looks female.

First, some figures; in a recent survey, the Design Council found that the UK’s design workforce is approximately 78% male, 22% female. Although this seems a disheartening statistic, it is certainly a more promising percentage than there has been historically, and ensures that there is room for more women to make waves in the world of design.

But instead of focusing on numbers, this International Women’s Day, we choose to shine the spotlight on the female designers who are exemplifying this increase in women working in the industry; the women who continue to challenge the game. Without further ado, let’s hear it for the girls. May the roll call of formidable females commence.



“Women are flexible, adaptable, and able to multitask. We have to be to survive, and those two qualities—flexibility and adaptability—I like a lot in design.”


Patricia Urquiola | Image courtesy of FLOS ©

Patricia Urquiola by A. Paderni | Image courtesy of FLOS ©


Art Director of one of Europe’s leading design houses, Patricia Urquiola has been at the creative helm of Cassina since 2015, leading it into new realms of creativity. Born in Oveido, Spain in 1961, Urquiola lives and works in Milan. After graduating from the University of Architecture in Madrid with Achille Castiglioni in 1989, she collaborated often with Castiglioni and Vico Magistretti before opening her own studio. Urquiola’s work is renowned as being boundary-pushing; her singular vision is hailed by many, having collaborated with some of Italy’s most prestigious design houses across her illustrious career.

Her work is showcased around the world in New York’s MoMA, the Vitra Design Museum in Basel and the V&A in London. By leading Cassina into new realms of development and enriching its creative power, Patricia Urquiola simultaneously contributes towards the force of female Art Directors demonstrating that there is a future for women in the industry.




“Potentially anyone can invent their own direction today. It’s pointless to imagine reproducing a line of work that has over 30 years of history. There are many new possibilities, technologies, signs and languages that can be experimented to identify one’s unique path.”


Paola Navone | Image courtesy of Designboom ©


Continuing with the theme of the most prominent design houses in Europe, Gervasoni has been operated under the creative direction of legendary designer Paola Navone since 1998. Navone’s roots in design began when she worked within the Alchimia group: the most progressive collective on the Italian design scene of its time, where she developed a highly productive and stimulating avant-garde stance.

In 1983, it was this visionary design outlook of Navone’s which gained her the first ever prestigious Osaka International Design Award. Later moving to work in Milan, Navone has since been driven by an extreme interest in world cultures. A frequent traveller, she has moved between the roles of designer, architect and art director among other disciplines across her career in design. Now Gervasoni’s Art Director, she personally designs the majority of the prestigious Italian design house’s collections.




“I used to not like being called a 'woman architect': I'm an architect, not just a woman architect. Guys used to tap me on the head and say, 'You are okay for a girl.' But I see the incredible amount of need from other women for reassurance that it could be done, so I don't mind that at all.”


Dame Zaha Hadid | Image courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects ©

Dame Zaha Hadid | Image courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects ©


It would be near impossible to compile a list of the most influential women in design today without including the late, great Dame Zaha Hadid. Needless to say one of the most renowned and influential architects of her generation, Hadid’s pioneering vision redefined 21st century architecture, challenging the limits of what was architecturally achievable with modest concrete, and capturing the world’s imagination with her amazing manifestations in steel and glass.

Her designs are symbols of progression, with emphasis on creating buildings to be used by the masses. Meanwhile, her positive vision into the future made for an inimitable level of inventiveness within the possibilities of materials and construction processes. Born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1950, Hadid originally studied mathematics, before moving to the Architectural Association School where she flourished and received the Diploma Prize in 1977.

In the years since, Hadid’s singular approach to form and intuitive understanding of how to create spaces that are simultaneously breathtakingly beautiful and useful to society resulted in her being awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the equivalent of a Nobel Prize of architecture, in 2004. A true matriarch of her industry, it is arguable that no one has left such a celebrated stamp on the architectural world since.




“I’m a passionate advocate of resuming handicraft techniques, not because I want to go back in time but precisely because I want to take a new step forward.”


Hella Jongerius | Image courtesy of Vitra ©

Hella Jongerius | Image courtesy of Vitra ©


Recently showcasing her ‘Breathing Colour’ exhibition at our partnered space The Design Museum, Hella Jongerius’s work focuses on testing the boundaries of colour, material and texture. Her research is continual and her work is never done, with her designs coming to rest somewhere between their natural starting and expected finishing point.

Each piece Jongerius creates is intended to evoke an uncertain future, questioning the potential of innovative techniques and rare materials. Through this approach, Jongerius celebrates the act of working, placing importance on process, while encouraging all who look on her designs to join her in her investigative approach to designing.




“A weaver in Cumbria demanded a sketch a night from me for a month. So I posted them off to him every evening and when he had them all, he used them and didn’t credit me! I would bump into him at exhibitions and it was very awkward.


Lucienne Day at work | Image courtesy of the Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation ©

Lucienne Day at work | Image courtesy of the Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation ©


The Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation are currently celebrating the centenary of Lucienne Day, through the Lucienne Day 100 Exhibition. Renowned for her incredible contribution to textile design and a virtuoso pattern designer and colourist, Day drew on inspiration from other mediums to develop a new technique of abstract pattern-making in post-war British textiles.

Alongside her husband, furniture designer Robin Day, Lucienne Day worked with a multitude of medias, designing dress fabrics, wallpapers, china, silk mosaics, table linen and carpets. One of Day’s most celebrated textile patterns was Calyx, first discovered by Heal’s fabrics director Tom Worthington. Day recounted, "I had already designed a couple of things for Heal's so I took Calyx along to them. Tom Worthington said he would produce it for me but only pay me half the fee of 20 guineas because he was certain he wouldn't sell a yard."

As it turns out, Calyx and many of Day’s other magnificent patterns are still produced to this day, meaning Worthington's unenthusiastic predictions were unexpectedly correct, albeit in a slightly backwards way: Calyx and Day's other patterns didn't sell a yard, they sold hundreds of thousands of yards.




“Empathy is the cornerstone of design.”


Ilse Crawford | Image courtesy of Tobias Regell ©

Ilse Crawford | Image courtesy of Tobias Regell ©


Founder of innovative design house Studioilse, Ilse Crawford’s never-ending goal is to put human needs and desires at the centre of everything she designs. Designer, academic and creative director, Crawford was featured on Dezeen’s list of 50 Inspirational Women in Design on last year’s International Women’s Day. When designing furniture for Studioilse, Crawford focuses on ensuring the pieces will support natural human behaviours and enhance everyday life.

Crawford has confessed that she draws inspiration from watching how people interact with spaces and each other - her emphasis has always been to use design to bring people together. As if founding Studioilse wasn’t enough, Crawford is also founder of the department of Man and Wellbeing at Eindhoven’s Design Academy, where she applies her longstanding mission of nurturing a new generation of design students to innovate and push the possibilities of design in the future.


You can find pieces by these incomparable women and many other inspirational designers online and in-store at The Conran Shop.

Want to read more? Visit the other feature in our International Women’s Day series, which examines how female designers of the past were overlooked and denied authorship despite their pioneering contributions to the industry; read more here.